With Ad: Tech wrapping up last week in New York City, I felt it high time to review what, in my opinion, was the most important topic of the conference: social search. Social search isn’t socializing with your five closest friends over a marathon session of group Google’ing and Yahoo’ing. Rather, social search takes a powerful offline marketing concept, word of mouth, and expands the potential referral network exponentially.
Throughout history, word of mouth marketing has been one of the most powerful marketing tools. Like its older brother, today’s high-tech version has the potential to be the most influential driver of consumer response in interactive marketing.
How can one concept possibly carry so much potential?
For several years now Google has enjoyed (and profited handsomely from) its search dominance. Provide web surfers with the freshest, most relevant content for their search queries and you will find yourself with a very loyal user base. Throw some advertising into the mix and you have a recipe for success.
Google’s relevance powers its brand equity and consumer loyalty. People believe Google returns the most relevant search results and so they return time and again. When a new search engine comes along or an existing engine revamps its offerings, I try it out for a while. After all, search is my profession.
Inevitably, I return to Google. Familiar, fast, fresh and relevant.
The web of tomorrow has taken a dramatically different approach to relevant content. Aptly named “web 2.0”, the next generation of websites promote social elements that encourage community involvement. Content, online discussions, even the overall purpose of these sites are all user-defined. After all, isn’t that what the web is all about: bringing like-minded individuals from all over the globe together to collaborate, innovate and share?
Today’s casual web surfer has immense power. The power to shape and influence community thought and, at a minimum, offer two cents to the larger meaning. Never before has the individual “average Joe” wielded so much power.
Part of that power is the ability to self categorize, or “tag” content that is useful to people in their daily search for content that is important to them. Social bookmarking sites like Digg, del.icio.us and furl enable users to place server-side bookmarks on sites and structure those bookmarks around tagged keyword terms for quick and easy access. These sites allow the “tagger” to share his or her tagged sites and media with the world, a particular group of friends, or possibly just themselves.
Peter Hirschberg, chairman and chief marketing officer at Technorati, participated in the social search discussion panel at Ad:Tech. Technorati, a pioneer in social search technologies allows bloggers to create keyword tags for the content of their posts and share them online with other bloggers.
Speaking on the inherent power of social search, Mr. Hirschberg mused “more than two-thirds of people trust their peers when it comes to buying products or services.”
We have taken word of mouth referrals and gossip out of America’s living rooms and placed them in virtual meeting places that are every bit as relevant to people as the village pub of a century ago, or the coffee shop of the 20th century.
This new direction has the potential to rewrite the rules for search and data collection methodologies. Anyone with an internet connection can discover unique and relevant content, tag that content and share it out with their online network. Search becomes a much more personal experience.
No longer are users shown search results; they interact with and even define the results.
Why should the web of tomorrow be bound to what any search engine’s computer-driven algorithm serves up as the most “relevant” content for a given search? Who’s really making that determination of relevancy?
I’ve long been a proponent of great web content and copy. More than a year ago, I declared that the future of search engine optimization (SEO) lay in the hands of copywriters. The technical tricks of yesteryear were on their way out and as search engines evolved, they brought about the rise of the web copywriter.
Today we’re seeing the next milestone on that path towards a content-dominated web landscape. As the blogosphere and social networking sites get lit up with the newest, latest-greatest fads, can you afford to sit back and wait for GoogleBot to find, index and rank that content?
The web moves at light speed, and if you want relevancy you have some options. You can ask your online network of friends or Googlebot.
My money’s on the user-driven model of Web 2.0 search.